Jeff Larson: Political Landlord
By Mike Mullen
In mid-2008, it came out that Jeff Larson had been renting a Washington, D.C. apartment to then-Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn), a close friend and political cohort.
As a landlord, Larson -- the subject of last week's feature, "RNC Piggy Bank" -- had been pretty lax on collecting rent. He allowed Coleman to miss several payments, and even admitted to accepting furniture from Coleman instead of a rent payment. This all raised ethical questions with political watchdog groups, leading to a formal complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee.
But records show that Larson's career as a political landlord extends beyond this one incident.
In 2003, Larson was the founding treasurer of Coleman's political action committee, Northstar Leadership. In the years since, Northstar Leadership has paid more than $300,000 to Larson's telemarketing firm, FLS Connect, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Some of this PAC money has gone toward Larson renting an office from FLS. In addition, Coleman for Senate '08, the Senator's official 2008 campaign committee, also rented an office from FLS. As did the 2008 Republican National Convention host committee, of which Larson was the CEO and treasurer.
At one point, FLS was renting an office to Coleman's PAC, Coleman's campaign committee, and the host committee, all at the same time.
Coleman conceded the race to Al Franken in June 2009, but before it terminated, Coleman for Senate '08 was still spending $700 a month in March 2010 on rent and IT from FLS.
Under Larson's management, the Northstar Leadership PAC's spending has taken a curious turn since Coleman left office.
In the 2010 election cycle, it donated only $22,000 to other Republican candidates, but spent $18,000 with FLS for consulting and rent -- all of it filed in six payments on December 20, 2009, just before the filing cycle ended, according to FEC documents.
During the same time period, Northstar Leadership also paid $25,000 to Richard Nelson, and $15,500 to Thomas McGill, two longtime Coleman fundraisers. Both men were paid similar funds by the RNC convention host committee, long after the convention, for "donor relations."
Dave Levinthal, an analyst for the Center for Responsive Politics, says this raises some questions.
When people donate to PACs, they usually assume their money is going toward a political campaign, says Levinthal. It's unusual for such a big chunk of donations to end up going toward consulting or fundraising efforts.
"When that amount of money becomes quite large, at the very least, it might raise an eyebrow or two, as to what's going on there," he says. "You know, is the political action committee existing to support like-minded candidates and a certain political philosophy, or to keep a political consulting firm in business?"
Larson left FLS Connect in November, and in February was named chief of staff to the new chair of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus. According to its FEC listing, Larson is still the treasurer of Northstar Leadership.
Presently, Northstar has only $26,548 cash on hand, but it owes FLS $56,000 in debt, much of it for "rent."
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